Marijuana in the Workplace


by BC Construction Safety Alliance

In 1973 the LeDain Commission (among the better known of the many publicly funded examinations of illicit drug use in Canada over the years) was tasked to look into the impact of non-medicinal drugs like marijuana. The review was spurred by what the federal government called a “growing concern” about the “sedative, stimulant, tranquilizing, or hallucinogenic properties” of such drugs and their effect on individuals and society overall.

In the second half of 2018, the federal Cannabis Act will finally do what the LeDain commission (and others over the years) recommended: decriminalize marijuana for recreational use. As we await the date, there is speculation galore about what will be the impact of legalizing “Maryjane”, “reefer”, “doobie”, “weed”, “bong”, “bud,” or “420.” From “great for business and employment” to “will create a new generation of zombies,” there is no end of guesswork about what the impacts might be.

Among those pondering what the future might hold are construction employers, who are naturally concerned about the potential impact of legalization on workplace safety. Will there be an increase in workers who toke up or grab an “edible” before or on the job? How will being impaired affect their performance and the safety of those around them? What will be the employer’s responsibility in all of this?

Dave Earle, president of the BC Trucking Association and an expert on impairment in the industry, says the best thing employers can do is stop worrying about what might be and concentrate instead on what is. “If employers think people aren’t using marijuana and other substances now, they need to open their eyes. Those who use will continue to use, and those who don’t, won’t,” he says.

Earle, who previously worked with CLRA as VP Government Relations and was also president of the Employers Forum, doesn’t expect much change over the short term and believes it will be years before we get a handle on the full impact of legalized marijuana. In the meantime, he says, the focus should be on asking why people feel the need to use mood-altering substances and how to recognize and effectively deal with impairment in the workplace.

“Impairment is impairment regardless of how someone gets there, and what hasn’t changed is the need to address what is already a serious problem,” says Earle. “For instance, the number one substance showing up in tests in construction was and is cocaine. The problem is we don’t talk about the ‘whys’ of substance use, including the impact of opiate addiction among injured workers. We don’t understand how to recognize when impairment could cause problems for the worker and others.”

The lack of discussion has much to do with the “hangover” culture of the industry, which is alive and well, Earle says, and the transitory nature of the workforce. “Long term relationships aren’t the norm so for employers it’s difficult to invest in someone’s recovery or even drug testing, which is $200 a test.”

So what can employers do? Earle suggests among the best strategies is to provide supports for supervisors to talk to and engage their crews about impairment and what to do if they notice a potential problem. “I preach about this all the time. If you see something that doesn’t seem right, 99 per cent of the time it’s not going to be related to substance use, but you still need to have the conversation. If the supervisor has the right training, he or she will recognize that something is wrong and if there is concern they can take appropriate action.”

Executive director Mike McKenna says BCCSA will help get employers talking about the issue by contracting Earle to be the guest speaker at all four of this year’s regional contractor meetings, which kick off in Prince George on May 8 (for the full schedule, visit the BCCSA website). The Alliance will also consider the possibility of endorsing a pre-existing course or seminar on impairment awareness and action strategies, says McKenna. “This is a serious problem for our industry and we have a role in assisting our contractors and workers overall.


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